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'Dirty Bomb' Suspect Gets to Meet With His Lawyers

March 04, 2004|From Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Jose Padilla, the American arrested in an alleged Al Qaeda plot to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb," was allowed to meet with lawyers Wednesday for the first time in nearly two years.

The U.S. government has designated Padilla an "enemy combatant," meaning he can be held indefinitely without access to lawyers. But the government relented last month, just days before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.

Donna R. Newman, one of Padilla's attorneys, said a video camera was present and military personnel looked on from an adjoining room during the three-hour meeting at the Navy brig near Charleston.

"I'm not saying we were not thrilled to see him, but it was not by any stretch of the imagination" a typical lawyer-client meeting held in confidence, Newman said.

"It was an informational meeting only -- our information for him," she said. She added: "It's hard to say what his spirits were, but he was very happy to see us."

Newman said the government offered no assurances that it would allow another meeting.

The FBI arrested Padilla, a former gang member from Chicago and a convert to Islam, in May 2002 as he returned from a trip to Pakistan.

Officials allege that Padilla, working under a senior Al Qaeda operative, was plotting to detonate a bomb that would scatter radioactive material in the United States.

Padilla last met with a lawyer before he was transferred to military custody in 2002.

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up back-to-back cases on whether American citizens who are arrested overseas or in the United States and designated "enemy combatants" can be held indefinitely without access to the courts.

The other case involves Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S.-born man who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 as a suspected Taliban foot soldier.

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